Visitors: Please note that winter hours began on Oct. 1. Please see the hours page for updated opening and closing times.

Primates Exhibit

Winter Hours

9:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • lowland gorilla staring off into the distance
  • orangutan hanging on the O line
  • great ape yard
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The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is home to over a dozen species of primates.

The homestead for the Zoo’s gorillas and orangutans is the Great Ape House. Within the house, floor-to-ceiling viewing panes allow visitors to view these endangered animals up close. Having a choice of how to spend their time is critical to great ape care, so enclosures are designed to provide the animals with opportunities to use their natural behaviors in new and exciting ways. Whether inside or outside, the apes have an opportunity to climb trees and multi-level platforms, rest in a hammock; swing from hanging ropes and fire hoses, engage in enriching activities (such as training and painting) and forage for food.

Walking between the Great Ape House to Think Tank? Look up! Orangutans travel along the O-Line, a 50-foot-high suspended cable track that gives them the freedom to move between their yards at the Great Ape House and Think Tank. Orangutans have the choice to use the O-Line on nice weather days from late morning to the early afternoon.

The interactive Think Tank exhibit is the place to think about animal thinking! Visitors are introduced to orangutans, Allen’s swamp monkeys, Schmidt’s red-tailed monkeys, Norway rats, and land hermit crabs to explore the concept of thinking through three main themes: language, society and tool use. Learn more about the Zoo’s ongoing primate research projects, see the monkeys illustrate the rules of living in a society, and observe rats navigating their exhibit, highlighting their physical abilities and flexible decision-making skills.

Inside Think Tank, participate in a tug-of-war with an orangutan at the orangutan rope-pull and test their arm strength. Looking at the animals outside? Get caught under a mist of water—turned on by an orangutan—in the Wet Zone. The outdoor orangutan exhibit is fitted with two mister shower heads. The push valves are operable only by the apes, who will have the ability to shower a visitor, themselves or both.

At Gibbon Ridge, visitors can see white-cheeked gibbons and siamangs swing through the ropes and branches. The Zoo’s tall outdoor enclosures are fitted with platforms, ropes and swings that encourage these lesser apes to navigate their habitat just as they would in the wild. With their long arms and hands, gibbons are adapted to moving fast high in the tree canopy using an arm-over-arm motion called “brachiation.” When walking on the ground, they place their arms above their head for balance.

Ring-tailed lemurs, red-fronted lemurs and black-and-white ruffed lemurs live on Lemur Island. Throughout the day, lemurs may be found basking in the sun, jumping through the trees, or huddled together, often grooming one another to strengthen their social bonds.

Depending on the time of day and weather conditions, all of the lemurs and apes have a choice to be in their indoor or outdoor enclosures. Great apes tend to be active in the morning and nap in the mid to late afternoon. Our gorillas and orangutans also have the option to enjoy some time away from the crowds in off-exhibit areas behind the scenes.

Keepers provide the primates with enrichment—enclosures, socialization, objects, sounds, smells and other stimuli—to enhance their well-being and give them an outlet to demonstrate their species-typical behaviors.

In addition to the Orangutan Rope-Pull and Wet Zone exhibits at Think Tank, animals have plenty of activities to keep them busy throughout the day. The Zoo’s primates receive between four and eight forms of enrichment every day to keep them physically and mentally active. Keepers maintain a detailed calendar to ensure that the items and experiences remain novel and interesting. Novel items and activities include iPads (for playing with various apps), musical instruments, painting, mirrors, boomer balls, rubber tubs, burlap, paper and boxes among others. Check out videos of ape enrichment in action: playing with the iPadmedical training, and painting!

No day is routine; keepers offer the primates various activities to stimulate cognition. As with any enrichment, the animals have the flexibility and choice to participate in the activity or walk away. These activities range from participating in a research demonstration, to training with a keeper, to creating an abstract painting on a canvas using non-toxic, water-based paint. Zoo visitors can watch great ape cognition research in action during Think Tank’s daily animal demonstration. Check the daily calendar of events schedule for demonstration times.

To encourage the animals to use their natural behaviors, keepers will often spread food around the enclosure and hide it within enrichment items. For example, keepers will often mix hay with smaller foods—such as fruits, herbs, popcorn and seeds—so that the primates spend a significant portion of their day foraging, just as they would in the wild. Often, keepers place food in special feeders or hard-to-reach spots to give the apes an opportunity to climb and create tools to obtain these treats. In addition to foraging, each animal receives an individual diet of nutrient-dense foods to ensure proper nutrition. On any given day, primates may receive: kale, celery, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, romaine, kale, cabbage, bananas, apples, oranges, mango, grapes, melon, papaya, onions, broccoli, turnips, squash, cucumbers, nuts, seeds and primate chow.

At the Zoo, gorillas and orangutans use hay, sheets, and a variety of other materials to build nests. They also receive browse (fresh plant trimmings), the type of which varies, but may include bamboo, banana leaves, Bradford pear, willow, mulberry or maple trimmings.

Social enrichment applies to the manner in which our primates are housed, as well as to the activities they participate in with animal care staff. Housing primates in appropriate social situations is one of the most significant ways to enrich their lives. Primates have active minds and complex social relationships, and companionship provides a constant source of stimulation. The keepers also provide social enrichment by engaging in games of chase, tickle, research or training sessions with the primates to engage them as well as strengthen social bonds.

The Small Mammal House hosts several other species of New World primates, including golden lion tamarins, golden-headed lion tamarins, red-ruffed lemurs, pale-headed saki monkeys, Geoffroy's marmoset and black howler monkeys. 

The Great Cats exhibit is located near the Speedwell Foundation Conservation Carousel. Visitors can observe Sumatran tigers, African lions, caracals and bobcats at this location.

The Reptile Discovery Center celebrates the diversity, beauty and unique adaptations of more than 70 reptiles and amphibians. It is located between the Great Ape House and Think Tank.

The Reptile Kiosk (open seasonally) serves beer, bratwurst, and more.

The Great Meadow picnic area is located adjacent to the Reptile Discovery Center.

A little farther away, visitors can see also see titi monkeys on exhibit in Amazonia

At 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily, visitors can meet a great ape keeper to learn about the fascinating world of apes. To view a full list of demonstrations, check out the Daily Events calendar.

All of the primates exhibited at the Zoo participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP Steering Committee determines which animals to breed by considering their genetic makeup, nutritional and social needs, temperament and overall health.

One way to determine what makes the human mind unique is by studying the minds of primate relatives. At Think Tank, Zoo scientists are looking closely at how great apes think in order to better understand what is unique about the human mind. How do apes approach the processes that make up social learning, such as memory and spatial understanding?

The Zoo is home to six western lowland gorillas that reside in two groups at the Great Ape House:

  • Baraka is an adult male, or silverback, who resides in the gorilla troop with Mandara, Calaya, and Kibibi. He is the largest member of our gorilla troop, weighing-in at nearly 400 pounds. Baraka has a large crest on his head and a saddle of silver hair covering his back. He was born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in April 1992.

  • Mandara is an adult female who resides in the gorilla troop with Baraka, Calaya and Kibibi. She earned the nickname “Super Mom” due to having six offspring: Kejana, Kigali, Ktembe, Kwame, Kojo, and Kibibi. She raised Baraka as her own offspring shortly after his birth. Mandara was born at the Lincoln Park Zoo in April 1982 and came to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in October 1985.

  • Calaya is an adult female who resides in the gorilla troop with Baraka, Mandara and Kibibi. She is very socially savvy with the other gorilla members and tends to avoid conflict. Calaya was born in August 2002 at the Woodland Park Zoo and arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in February 2015 on a breeding recommendation from the Gorilla Species Survival Plan.

  • Kibibi is a juvenile female who resides in the gorilla troop with Baraka, Mandara and Calaya. As the youngest and smallest gorilla, she is full of energy and often plays with the other members of her troop. Kibibi excels in the Zoo’s cognition research program, frequently outperforming the other gorillas in many of the research tasks. She was born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in January 2009.

  • Kwame is an adult male silverback, and is nearly full grown. He lives in a bachelor group with his younger brother, Kojo. A quick learner, Kwame is eager to participate in positive reinforcement training and figure out new enrichment items. He was born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in November 1999.

  • Kojo is a sub-adult male, or black back. He lives in a bachelor group with his older brother, Kwame. Although he is two years younger than Kwame, Kojo is catching up to his brother in size. He is one of the Zoo’s most playful gorillas and often demonstrates a mix of adult and juvenile behaviors. Kojo was born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in November 2001.

Based on recommendations from the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), the zoo manages one mixed-sex gorilla troop, and one bachelor troop. The two groups alternate indoor and outdoor space, depending on the time of day and the weather.

The Great Ape House and Think Tank are home to six orangutans: Kiko, Kyle, Bonnie, Iris, Batang and Lucy. The orangutans are highly social but semi-solitary in the wild, so they live in small, flexible social groups at the Zoo. The two males, Kiko and Kyle, are not housed together, but the females have the flexibility to choose which group to join. There are two species of orangutans, Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran (Pongo abelii). The older orangutans at the Zoo are hybrids (one Bornean parent, one Sumatran parent). Orangutans are managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan (SSP), which seeks to maintain a genetically diverse, and healthy population of both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.

  • Kiko is an adult male hybrid orangutan. Weighing in at 230 pounds, he is easily recognizable by his large cheekpads and long hair. Kiko routinely brachiates (swings hand over hand) on the O-Line and can be impatient if keepers don’t move quickly enough to his liking. He was born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 1987.

  • Kyle is an adult male Bornean orangutan. Like the Zoo’s other male orangutan, Kiko, Kyle sports large cheekpads and long hair. Kyle is bold, playful and seeks attention from his keepers and the other orangutans. He was born at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in December 1996 and came to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 2004 as part of the Bornean Orangutan Species Survival Plan.

  • Lucy is an adult female hybrid orangutan. The oldest of the Zoo’s orangutans, Lucy often delights visitors by sitting up at the glass. She is the only orangutan that chooses not to travel the O-Line. Lucy was born at the Zoo in 1973.

  • Bonnie is an adult female hybrid orangutan. Bonnie travels the O-Line frequently, but unlike most of the other orangutans, she usually does not choose to quickly cross from one end to the other, but instead likes to sit on top of one of the towers and watch the crowds down below. She has had one offspring, Kiko. Bonnie was born at the Rio Grande Zoo in 1976 and arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 1980.

  • Iris is an adult female hybrid orangutan. She’s charismatic and can be quite silly and playful, but also quite stubborn at times. She is the star of several cognitive research programs and enjoys participating in daily research demonstrations at Think Tank. She was born at the Zoo on April 15, 1987, and was named after the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) because of her birth date.

  • Batang is an adult female Bornean orangutan. She has pale skin on her face, especially around her eyes and mouth, and is smaller in stature than the Zoo’s other female orangutans. Batang tends to be very social; she enjoys spending a few days with some of the orangutans, then switches groups, spending a few days with the other orangutans. Batang was born in December 1996 at the Lincoln Park Zoo and came to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 2004 as part of the Bornean Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP).

  • Redd is the first Bornean orangutan born at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 25 years. He was born Sept. 12, 2016 to mother Batang and father Kyle. Zoo staff selected the name “Redd” for the male infant; orangutans are known as the “red ape.”